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Virtual community quizzes buyer

Members of Electric Minds weigh in on the offer by an Internet communications firm to acquire what's left of the online company.

Durand Communications, which runs CommunityWare, an Internet messaging and communications site, has made an offer to buy the trademark, logo, and domains of struggling online community Electric Minds, according to Electric Minds' founder Howard Rheingold.

But in a unique twist in keeping with the spirit of E-Minds and the philosophy of Rheingold, who popularized the concept of online community with his book Virtual Community, the sale will depend on the E-Minds community.

In an online discussion that has been rather active all weekend and has been virtually jumping today, E-Minders seem enthusiastic, if not a bit wary about the transfer of the community to Durand.

Members are quizzing Durand about its plans to keep E-Minds a free and open community as well as the company's technological capabilities for conferencing. Generally, they seem to be welcoming of a company that will allow them to continue their discussions about social ramifications of technology. (Durand said online that it is not yet commenting publicly on the potential sale.)

Members' hopes of staying on the current site evaporated last month when Rheingold told them in an online message that despite its success in getting new clients to develop online communities, it was going broke because investment banking firm Softbank withdrew an investment promise of $500,000.

Rheingold publicly stated that the community was all but doomed unless an investor stepped forward. That's when Durand called. But although Rheingold and E-Minds president Wendy York-Fess can agree to sell the assets of E-Minds, they can't promise that the people who make up the community--and who could make the community a moneymaker-- would necessarily go to a new E-Minds.

That's why Durand is carefully weighing the feedback it is getting from members, according to the online discussion.

Meanwhile, a group of E-Minds members, upon hearing about E-Minds' trouble, began forming a cooperative corporation to ensure the community's existence. It is unclear what will happen to the corporation should the sale go through.

Either way, the community is likely to continue--somehow. "We're resigned to the inevitable," Rheingold said. "It's the last days of the company," adding that "the community may live on."